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The Pilgrim by E H Broadbent

December 1, 2016

tpcThis was enlightening for me as I am fairly well versed in the story as told by the establishment (I was taught early and medieval Church History by an Anglican and Reformation and modern by a radical Baptist). There is much ‘lost i.e. suppressed, history which I didn’t know about and I am reminded of The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia by Philip Jenkins and if the early chapters of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s The History of Christianity .

I’d never heard of it until very recently but it has a large following.

The book outlines the well known history of the fathers and heretics (‘dads and cads’) of the early church.

Chapter 3 covers an entire fourteen centuries. So does chapter 4, from an Eastern perspective.

Chapter 14 covers a thousand years in Russia. Children were taken into carei f their parents were Brethren.

Broadbent notes a crucial difference between the New Testament scriptures and those not included in the canon is that the former gave no indication of a clergy/laity dichotomy in the church, whereas the latter gave credence to it

The catholics did preserve the canonical scriptures and, thereby, the seeds of renewal.

The author repeats the notion that ‘Mohammedanism’ was spread by the sword. Also that it learned to persecute from catholics.

It was interesting to see Origen (also lauded by liberals though I learned more about his life in this book) and Tertullian – both heterodox – held up for regard as they are so often favoured by completely different types of Christian.

This was first published in 1931 and is an alternative history of the church, unrecorded by secular history. It covers the history of many small churches throughout the ages that have attempted to follow the New Testament church pattern, the success of those that followed the pattern laid out by the apostles and the consequences to the churches that fell away from the pattern. He looks broadly at many groups such as the Paulicians, the Bogomils, the Nestorians, the Waldensians, the Anabaptists, the Hutterites, the Methodists, the Russian Mennonites and the Mennonite Brethren. He classified early primitive churches to Anabaptist, and to Moravian Brethren were historical Brethren Movement.

There were elders (pastors, presbyters, overseers) and evangelists (preachers and teachers) in these churches. But no assembly of believers required any of these in order to meet, given that the Head of the church had promised where two or three gathered in His name, He was in their midst. Although from an Anglo-Catholic background, I have long been suspicious of clericalism because, a Marx would say, priests have stolen and monopolised the means of production as far as sacraments are concerned.

Broadbent approves of the Paulicians, Bogomils, Waldenses (Vaudois), Albigenses, Lollards and the Waldenses , whose “apostles” (a travelling ministry) left property, goods, home and family to travel in simplicity, without money, their needs being supplied by the believers among whom they ministered. They always went two and two, an elder with a younger man. The name “Friends of God” was often given to them.

One reviewer accuses the Paulicians of being Gnostic – of course, history is written by the victors so we don‘t really know. Their Armenian leaders seem to have been dualists and adoptionists, though Broadbent says that this was a misrepresentation. Like  Marcionites, they rejected the Old Testament. In 1893, one Frederick Conybeare, one of the most prominent Western scholars of Armenian history in modern times, obtained a copy of a manuscript from Edjmiatzin and coc luded that while the Paulicians certainly accepted the Biblical truth of Satan’s adversarial stance towards God (which, as stated, the New Testament clearly teaches), there is nothing to suggest that he was viewed as the equal of God. Likewise, there is no trace of the dualism which posits that the God of the Old Testament is evil for creating the physical universe – indeed, the God whom the Paulicians served (and therefore believed to be good) is clearly said to have been responsible for the physical world around us – a physical world which is nowhere condemned as evil, in and of itself.

That the Bogomils and Cathars were dualists is nearer the mark but they were an honest and dedicated movement that rejected the trappings of wealth, lust and power.  There were no church buildings or property.  The Cathar Church did not demand tithes of its members and it educated its children, both male and female.

I can see why Broadbent likes Pierre de Brueys. Like many extreme protestants, he taught that none should be baptized until they had attained to the full use of their reason, that it is useless to build Churches, as God accepts sincere worship, wherever offered; that crucifixes should not be venerated (regard with reverence), but rather looked upon with horror, as representing the instrument on which Jesus suffered. The bread and wine are not changed into the body and blood of Christ, but are symbols which memorialise his death: and that the prayers and good works of the living cannot benefit the dead. However he seems to have been docetist.

Polemic aside, the ‘heretics’ behaved much more decently than their catholic persecutors. By their fruits shall ye know them.

Our current knowledge of the history of the Waldensians in the Middle Ages is almost exclusively from the official Roman Church which condemned them as heretics.  They seemed to have taught the atoning death and justifying righteousness of Christ, the fall of humankind, the incarnation, purgatory as the “invention of the Antichrist” and they valued voluntary poverty. They held that temporal offices and dignities were not meant for preachers of the Gospel; that relics were simply rotten bones which had belonged to one knew not whom; that to go on pilgrimage served no end, save to empty one’s purse; that meat might be eaten any day; that holy water was not a whit more efficacious than rain water; and that prayer in a barn was just as effectual as if offered in a church. They were accused of having scoffed at the doctrine of transubstantiation, and of having spoken blasphemously of the Roman Catholic Church as the harlot of the Apocalypse. The contemporary and historic Waldensian spiritual heritage describes itself as proclaiming the Gospel, serving the marginalized, promoting social justice, fostering inter-religious work, and advocating respect for religious diversity and freedom of conscience.

The running order is:

Beginnings: 29-313
Christianity in Christendom: 313-476, 300-850, 350-385
Paulicians and Bogomils: 50-1473
The East: B.C. 4 – A.D 1400
Waldenses and Albigenses: 1100-1230, 70-1700, 1160-1318, 1100-1500
Churches at the Close of the Middle Ages: 1300-1500
Lollards, Hussites, the United Brethren: 1350-1670
The Reformation: 1500-1550
The Anabaptists: 1516-1566
France and Switzerland: 1500-1800
English Non-conformists: 1525-1689
Labadie, the Pietists, Zinzendorf, Philadelphia: 1635-1750
Methodist and Missionary Movements: 1638-1820
The West: 1790-1890
Russia: 1788-1914,850-1650, 1812-1930, 1823-1930, 1828-1930
Groves, Muller, Chapman: 1825-1902
Questions of fellowship and of Inspiration (Rationalism): 1830-1930

Chapter  9, about the Anabaptist, is disproportionately long. Neither the Swiss nor the German reformation went far enough for the author. There are lengthy quotations from Menno –perhaps he isn’t much quoted elsewhere.

There’s a good description of lectio divina as practiced by Kaspar von Schwenkfeld on p. 200.

He admires the Authorised Version of the Bible, despite noting Wycliffe’s translation ‘congregation’ instead of ‘church’.

He mentions Primitive Methodists but doesn’t tell us anything about them.

I liked the observation, on p. 301, that there was a variety of ministries and ministers if they were unhindered. Today’s mainline churches seek to ordain or license but cannot fully contain them and should learn to ‘let a thousand flowers bloom.’

I also liked the acknowledgment that ‘true believers’ can be found in mainstream churches. Indeed, like the early Methodists, meetings were oten held outside service times so that people could go to church if they wanted to.

It’s interesting to note that, under George Muller, Cifton Bethesda debated whether having the Lord’s Supper on every Lord’s Day stopped them having other forms of worship. They have abandoned a weekly celebration in the past few years. Bethesda was criticised by what later became known as ‘exclusive brethren’ for having a relatively open table.

I was challenged to think again about the merits of believer’s baptism versus infant baptism so it was fortuitous that a review copy of Paul on Baptism: Theology, Mission and Ministry in Context  by Nicholas Taylor landed on my doormats while I as reading this.

I didn’t know that ‘Lollard’ meant ‘babbler’. I also learned a new word – utraquist (from the Latin sub utraque specie, meaning “in both kinds”) – strangely I heard it the same day in from someone as I read the chapter wherein it occurs.

Broadbent was a member of The Brethren, as was F.F. Bruce, who regarded this book highly.


Events in the history of the churches in the time of the apostles have been selected and recorded in the Book of Acts in such a way as to provide a permanent pattern for the churches. Departure from this pattern has had disastrous consequences, and all revival and restoration have been due to some return to the pattern and principles in the Scriptures. The following account…shows that there has been a continuous succession of churches composed of believers who have made it their aim to act on the teaching of the New Testament. This succession is not necessarily to be found in any one place; often such churches have been dispersed or have degenerated, but similar ones have appeared in other places. The pattern is so clearly delineated in Scriptures as to have made it possible for churches of this character to spring up in fresh places and among believers who did not know that disciples before them had taken the same path, or that there were some in their own time in other parts of the world.

The chief objects of the synagogue were the reading of Scripture, teaching its precepts, and prayer; and its beginnings go back to ancient times. In Psalm 74:4,8 is the complaint: “Thine enemies roar in the midst of thy congregations…they have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land.”

…The likeness and connection between synagogues and the churches is apparent.

…There was liberty of ministry in the synagogues. Jesus habitually taught in them, “as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read” (Lk. 4:16). When Barnabas and Paul came to Antioch in Pisidia, they went to the synagogue and sat down. “After the reading of the law and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on” (Acts 13:15).

There is a noticeable difference between the New Testament and the writings of the same period and later which are not included in the list or canon of the inspired Scriptures. The inferiority of the latter is unmistakable even when the good in them is readily appreciated. While expounding the Scriptures, defending the truth, refuting errors, exhorting the disciples, they also manifest the increasing departure from the divine principles of the New Testament which had already begun in apostolic days and was rapidly accentuated afterwards…

…In his last words to the elders of the church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul is described as sending for them and addressing them as those whom the Holy Spirit had made overseers (Acts 20). The word “elders” is the same as “presbyters” and the word “overseers” the same as “bishops,” and the whole passage shows that the two titles referred to the same men, and that there were several such in the one church.

Very different from Origen was Cyprian, bishop* of Carthage, born about AD 200. He freely uses the term “the Catholic Church” and sees no salvation outside of it, so that in his time the “Old Catholic Church” was already formed, that is, the Church which before the time of Constantine claimed the name “Catholic” and excluded all who did not conform it it…He commended the reading of his pamphlets as likely to help any in doubt, and referring to Novatian asserts, “He who is not in the Church of Christ is not a Christian…there is one  Church…and also one episcopate.”

Ignatius, however, writing some years after Clement, though he also had known several of the apostles, gives to the bishop a prominence and authority not only unknown in the New Testament but also beyond what was claimed by Clement. Commenting on Acts 20, he says that Paul sent from Miletus to Ephesus and called the bishops and presbyters, thus making two titles out of one description, and says that they were from Ephesus and neighboring cities, thus obscuring the fact that one church, Ephesus, had several overseers or bishops.

The first general council of the Catholic churches was summoned by Constantine and met at Nicea in Bithynia. The principal question before it was the doctrine taught by Arius, a presbyter of Alexandria, who maintained that the Son of God was a created being, the first and greatest, but not on an equality with the Father. Over 300 bishops were present, with their numerous attendants, from all parts of the Empire to examine this matter.

The growth of a clerical system under the domination of the bishops, who in turn were ruled by “Metropolitans” controlling extensive territories, substituted a human organization and religious forms for the power and working of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Scriptures…

The first clear reference to the baptism of infants is in a writing of Tertullian in AD 197, in which he condemns the practice beginning to be introduced of baptizing the dead and of baptizing infants. The way for this change, however, had been prepared by teaching concerning baptism which was divergent from that in the New Testament; for early in the second century baptismal regeneration was already being taught. This, together with the equally striking change by which the remembrance of the Lord and His death (in the breaking of bread and drinking of wine among His disciples) was changed into an act miraculously performed, it was claimed, by a priest, intensified the growing distinction between clergy and laity.

When the Church came into contact with the Roman Empire, a conflict ensued in which all the resources of that mighty power were exhausted in a vain endeavor to vanquish those who never resisted or retaliated…. However much the churches were divided in view and practice, they were united in suffering and victory.

The first three centuries of the Church’s history prove that no earthly power can crush it. It is invincible to attacks from without. The witnesses of its sufferings, and even its persecutors, become its converts and it grows more rapidly than it can be destroyed. …the union of the Church and the State, even when the powers of the mightiest Empire are put into the Church’s hands, do not enable her to save the State from destruction, for, in abandoning the position which her very name implies, of being “called out” of the world and of separation to Christ, she loses the power that comes from subjection to her Lord, exchanging it for an earthly authority that is fatal to herself.

One Thing Needful: Christendom has become a labyrinth. The faith has been split into a thousand little parts and you are made a heretic if there is one of them you do not accept…What can help? Only the one thing needful: return to Christ, looking to Christ as the only Leader, and walking in His footsteps, setting aside all other ways until we reach the goal, and have come to the unity of the faith (Eph. 4:13). As the Heavenly Master built everything on the ground of the Scriptures, so should we leave all particularities of our special confessions and be satisfied with the revealed Word of God which belongs to us all.

While the Catholic bishops wished to include in the Church as many adherents as possible, the Montanists constantly pressed for definite evidences of Christianity in the lives of applicants for fellowship.

It was not the form of baptism that gave them courage to suffer as they did. They were aware of immediate communion with their Redeemer; no man and no religious form came between their souls and Him…This fellowship with Him enabled them to understand their communion with those who shared it with them, and in their churches to realize the fellowship of saints. These churches had various beginnings, various histories, and differed according to the character of the persons in them; but all were alike in their desire to adhere to the pattern of primitive Christianity found in the New Testament…. Taking this path they were subject to special temptations, and wherever they yielded to fleshly desires, political aims or covetousness, their fall was great, but by far the greater part were enabled to bear a good testimony to the faithfulness of God.

The means adopted to counter these (heretical doctrines) and to preserve the unity of doctrine affected the Church even more than the heresies themselves, for it was largely due to them that the episcopal power and control grew up along with the clerical system which began so soon and so seriously to modify the character of the churches.”

“The inferiority of (them) is unmistakable even when the good in them is readily appreciated. While expounding the Scriptures, defending the truth, refuting errors, exhorting the disciples, they also manifest the increasing departure from the divine principles of the New Testament which had already begun in apostolic days and was rapidly accentuated afterwards.”

From the time of Mani the churches of believers who called themselves Christians, thus distinguishing themselves from others whom they called “Romans,” had always been accused of being Manichaeans, though they declared that they were not and complained of the injustice of attributing to them doctrines they did not hold. The frequency with which anything is repeated is no proof that it is true, and since such writings as remain of these Christians contain no trace of Manichaeism, it is only reasonable to believe that they did not hold it.

The true histories of these (dissenters) have been obliterated as far as possible. Their writings, sharing the fate of the writers, have been destroyed to the full extent of the power allowed to their persecutors. Not only so, but histories of them have been promulgated by those in whose interest it was to disseminate the worst inventions against them in order to justify their own cruelties. In such accounts they are depicted as heretics, and evil doctrines are ascribed to them which they repudiated. They are called “sects,” and labels are attached to them which they themselves would not acknowledge.

They usually called themselves Christians, or Brethren, but numerous names were given to them by others in order to create the impression that they represented many new, strange, and unconnected sects, opprobrious epithets being applied to them to bring them into disrepute. It is therefore difficult to trace their history. What their adversaries have written of them must be suspect; words from their own lips wrung out by torture are valueless. There is, however, in spite of these hindrances, a large body of trustworthy evidence, continually being added to by further investigation, which shows what they were and did, what they believed and taught. These their own records, afford a safe guide to their faith and practice.

In571 Mohammed was born in Mecca, and at his death in 632 the religion of Islam, of which he was the founder and prophet, had spread over the greater part of Arabia. Islam, or “submission to the will of God,” had as its creed: “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His Prophet.” It utterly repudiated (editor’s note: in contrast with the Church of Rome)  images or pictures of any kind. Its book, the  Koran, contains many confused references to persons and events spoken of in the Bible. Abraham as the Friend of God, Moses the Law of God, Jesus the Spirit of God, are all venerated, but are excelled by Mohammed, the Prophet of God.

This religion was mercilessly spread by the sword, and such was the relentless energy of the new enthusiasm that in less than a hundred years from the death of Mohammed, the dominion and religion of his followers stretched from India to Spain. The choice of conversion to Islam or death constantly reinforced the armies of the Muslims, but untold numbers died rather than deny Christ.

In North Africa especially, where the churches were so numerous and had such traditions and records of the faith unto death of those who had suffered there during the persecution by the pagan Roman Empire, a great proportion of the population was blotted out. Islam was a judgment on idolatry, whether pagan or Christian.

“No authority of any man was allowed to set aside the authority of Scripture. Yet, throughout the centuries, and in all countries, they confessed the same truths and had the same practices.”

Prophecy’ was understood among  (the dissenting churches in Holland) to be a gift to be exercised by any brother, who, led by the Spirit, might stand up in the meeting, expound the Word and apply it in a way suited to the needs of the church.

A peasant living in a village some distance north of Omsk where the openings in the great forest of larch and silver birch give room for cultivation, was called up for military service and took part in the Japanese war. From a comrade he obtained a New Testament, and through reading it he became a new man. His former drunken and wicked habits were changed into the sobriety and honesty and peace becoming a Christian. When he returned to his native village the change was noticed, but his friends were less struck by his altered conduct than by what seemed to them to be his loss of religion, since he took no part in the ceremonies of the Orthodox Church not did he keep the usual ikons or holy pictures in his house.

As churches of German Baptists grew up among the large German population of Russia, they came into touch with older companies of Russian believers who also practiced believers’ baptism, and in many instances the German Baptists succeeded in absorbing these into their organization, so that the numerous Russian churches came to be divided into two great streams. The original Russian churches maintained the independence of each congregation, whereas the Baptists formed a federation affiliated with churches in Germany and America. The Baptists aimed at having a pastor over each church, and the administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper lay chiefly in his hands; the older Russian churches had elders in every church and emphasized the priesthood of all believers and liberty of ministry.

The Church Question, that is to say, the question whether we can, and should, continue to carry out the New Testament teaching and example as to the ordering of churches, has been answered in various ways:

1. The theory of “development” would make it undesirable to do so, because, as is claimed by the ritualistic churches, such as the Church of Rome, the Greek Orthodox Church, and others like them, something better than that which was practiced in the beginning has been attained, and the Scriptures have been modified, or even supplanted, by tradition.

2. Rationalism gives the same answer, looking upon it as retrogression to go back to the original pattern, since it denies that the Scriptures provide an abiding authority.

3. Reformers of existing churches have tried to effect a compromise, returning in part, but not altogether, to the acknowledged pattern, as Luther, Spener, and others.

4. Some have abandoned the attempt, as the Mystics, who devoted themselves instead to the attainment of personal holiness and communion with God, examples of whom are Molinos, Madame Guyon, and Tersteegen; and the Friends, who set aside the outward ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and occupied themselves rather with the testimony of the inner Light than with the outward Scriptures; others, as Darby and his followers, repudiated the obligation and replaced it by a witness to “the ruin of the Church.”

5. Evangelical Revival set it aside as unimportant, concentrating on the conversion of sinners and organizing what seemed suitable to meet practical needs, as Wesley’s Methodist Societies, or the Salvation Army.

6. But there have in all times been brethren who have answered “yes” to the question though they have been called by many names: Cathars, Novatians, Paulicians, Bogomils, Albigenses, Waldenses, Lollards, Anabaptists, Mennonites, Stundists and others innumerable, many congregations also of Baptists and Independents, and assemblies of Brethren; they have been one in their endeavor to act upon the New Testament and to follow the example of New Testament churches.

I didn’t know that ‘Lollard’ meant ‘babbler’.

It is available online here

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